Our Watermill pastel tutor Rebecca de Mendonça produces paintings that are full of life and energy, helping the viewer to feel that they are there, ‘in the moment.’ But how do you achieve that vibrancy?
Some time back, Rebecca wrote an interesting article about this on her blog, which is as true today as it was then, and I’m pleased to reproduce some highlights here.
She says: “People often comment that my paintings look ‘real.’ But the more I paint, the more I wonder what we mean by ‘real.’ The temptation is to go really detailed… but whatever I draw and paint actually looks more ‘real’ if it isn’t all filled in and finished off. “How is it that leaving part of it unfinished or smudged make it seem more real than a photograph full of detail?
Rebecca adds: “…what is ‘real’? What do we mean by this? Is this about conveying more than just what it looks like? Do we need to tap into our other senses to feel that energy, and not just the visual? What can we do to connect with the emotion of the moment? And even more interesting, how can we connect the viewer to that feeling?”
To connect to that emotion Rebecca finds she has to relax, and ‘let go’ of that need to copy everything: “I think of it as ‘tuning in’ to my subjects, but as I’m really not sure how I do this, it can be difficult to achieve!”
While she works a lot from photographs, Rebecca increasingly finds she needs to take them herself: “They are only part of the process of inspiration and connection. What also informs my painting process are the memories of what it felt like to be there. Was it cold and windy on top of that hill? Or hot and noisy in that street in Barcelona? How bright was the light? What sounds could I hear?”
And when looking at the photograph, it is important to focus on what is important at that particular moment and what story you, as an artist want to tell: “A photograph will capture all the detail of the scene in the same way, whether it is important to the story we are telling or not. In real life we focus on something, specifically what is important at that particular moment.”
When we talk with someone we tend to concentrate on their eyes and perhaps their mouth, says Rebecca. “We aren’t really bothering about their hair, ears or chin, or what is behind them, so on our drawing or painting we can soften those features slightly, and sharpen the contrasts and colours of the eyes and mouth. Just by varying our mark making we can change where the focus is.
So, Rebeca’s favourite way of working is to start in a loose and flexible way, and then gradually heighten the detail on the area of focus, which will draw the eye in. The areas that are loosely suggested are filled in by the viewers’ imagination.
Fascinating stuff! Learn more from the artist herself: Rebecca will be with us from Saturday 27 August to Saturday 4 September. To reserve your place just click the link below.
Rebecca de Mendonça
27 August-3 September 2022
To learn more about Rebecca and her course at the mill, please visit her 2022 Profile Page.